Sebastian Vettel accused Formula One boss Stefano Domenicali of being thoughtless and using insensitive language when he suggested there was little prospect for female drivers in the sport.
Speaking to reporters at the Belgian Grand Prix, Aston Martin’s retirement-bound four-time world champion said the Italian former Ferrari chief had used “a very unlucky choice of words”.
Domenicali told reporters on Wednesday that “realistically-speaking, unless there is something like a meteorite coming to Earth, I don’t see a girl coming into F1 in the next five years.”
He qualified his comment, but the words made unwelcome headlines according to Vettel even though Domenicali explained F1 was working on initiatives for greater equality and inclusion.
F1 is promoting the female-only W Series by running its races at grands prix this season.
“We believe that to be able to give a chance for girls to be at the same level with the guys, they need to be at the same age when they start to fight on the track,” said Domenicali, but his throwaway line could not be retracted.
Vettel knows Domenicali from his days at Ferrari and said his choice of words could dash the dreams of women.
“I know Stefano,” said Vettel.
“And I haven’t read it exactly, but it was a very unlucky choice of words because it’s statements like that that probably all girls and women are confronted with when they grow up and are sharing their dreams sitting at breakfast.
“Then, the father might have just read that statement and makes it clear to her ‘you like other things -– why not focus on other things?’
“So, it’s important that we don’t say these things because I don’t see a reason why we can’t have a woman on the grid. I think the challenges we are facing… they can be faced by women.”
The 35-year-old German said he would motivate women to live their dream rather than discourage them.
“So I do the opposite,” he said.
“I encourage every girl at the breakfast table to speak up and prove Stefano and all these people wrong.
“I think this sort of stereotype thinking is slowly disappearing, but it has to disappear completely.”
Only two women, both Italian, have ever started an F1 World Championship grand prix.
Maria Teresa de Filippis competed five times in the 1950s, and Lella Lombardi took part in 12 races in the mid-1970s.
Lombardi is the only female to score points — she won half a point for finishing sixth in the shortened 1975 Spanish Grand Prix.